Why are the Southwestern states so closely balanced? The answer is they are now a reflection of the new twenty-first century America: suburban, more Hispanic, more Asian, more Native American, more oriented toward high tech industry, etc.
Yet this area now faces severe and so far unrelenting economic problems. During my recent trip I saw far more closed businesses and homeless people than during my last visit five years ago. Obama is facing real troubles in the Southwest, where his re-election bid is in severe jeopardy.
The Southwest could also play a key role in the furious contests for control of the House and Senate. Texas had the most Congressional gains in re-apportionment (4 House seats). Given the state’s recent Republican tilt, most expected more GOP gains. But Texas Republicans tried to protect every GOP incumbent elected in their 2010 sweep and this has led to complications: a federal court has taken control of the Texas remap due to discrimination against Hispanics (a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act). Since Texas now has a majority of minorities — 38% Hispanic, 12% black, 5% Asian/Other — drawing districts based on sheer population will result in Democratic gains. If the House vote is close, Texas alone could make the difference.
If Texas Republicans over-reached in the House races, they are playing a much smarter game in the Senate as they have endorsed State Solicitor General Ted Cruz to succeed Kay Hutchison. Cruz, a conservative Cuban-American with ample Tea Party support, will face off against likely weak Democratic opposition as a solid favorite. With his ethnicity and conservative movement support, Cruz could become a national GOP star like Florida’s Marco Rubio.
Republicans currently have 47 seats in the U.S. Senate, so they need a net gain of four to guarantee control. Open Democratic seats in normally “Red” North Dakota and Nebraska should go Republican this fall. Republicans also have an even shot at open Democratic seats in Virginia and Wisconsin. Democratic incumbents in Montana, Ohio, Missouri, and (of course) Florida face very tough challenges. If the Senate races in the rest of the nation break evenly, the new Senate majority could come down to the Southwest where Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona all have open races that will be fiercely contested.
Barring an unexpected event that causes the national electorate to surge toward one party or the other, we’re probably looking at another tight “Red-Blue” campaign like 2000 and 2004. If so, watch the Southwestern states: history shows they are over 80% likely to go with the winner.